The revival of the written word

The revival of the written word

Communication | Judette Coward-Puglisi

May 14, 2009

In the catalogue of family values how would you rate a situation  like this?


A friend, Indra Sammy replies to her daughter’s e-mail, asking her not to substitute the word "coz" for because, or "luv ya" for love you. She’s concerned that if  her daughter continues expressing herself in  the English  of convenience she’ll  forget about the art of writing.  I suppose what  Indra wants from her daughter, even in an e-mail, is real communication not just mere contact. She wants an expression of feelings. She doesn’t just want to stay in touch.  


But I wonder, would you consider my friend overbearing, ornery, not au courant with the times? 


Now to answer that question first consider this. In the catalogue of business values, how would you rank an occasion like this?


A high ranking businessman  is asked to deliver the feature address at a gala dinner and awards function. He brings a script but departs from the text, preferring  instead to ad lib.  I believe that an ad lib has its place but certainly  not ad nauseum and this is a perfect example. What comes out of this top executive’s mouth is a string of badly pronounced words, and poorly constructed sentences, green verb too.


I have two questions: Would you question this executive’s ability? Would you want him on your board?  


More and more at different corporate functions, I ‘ve begun to see a disturbing trend, the decline of the written word. University graduates wouldn’t know how to  begin writing  a long, thoughtful letter, the kind that requires reflection, effort and time.  More disturbing is the fact that some business executives have no idea how to condense and distill information-using the art of speech writing.  


That particular evening at the gala awards dinner, the CEO was in the company of his peers. "How was it possible," I thought as I sat through many badly written speeches, "that the heads  of these large, mostly successful companies did not how to communicate?" The reputation of that particular feature speaker surely  died a thousand deaths when he boasted  about his company’s success: "My company have seen profits…." 


Perhaps the decline of the written word, has much to do with the times  that we live in. This, after all, is the age where we communicate more but write less. Hyper busy executives don’t read articles as they once did, if they can get the  story in one paragraph, then forget the rest. If they can derive  the essence of a twenty minute speech in a ten second sound bite, they’ll consider themselves  informed. But it does not stop there. More and more we rely on commercial poets and cartoonists to express our thoughts for us.  We sign off our sentences with a shrug and a bright yellow faced smile.  


 But we need not degenerate the English language any further before we think about its rescue. So to the businessman that night who went in a drunken state to the podium, and to you, yes you, the one with the green verbs spilling forth from your script  like a broken WASA main, here are some  tricks of the trade to help you get through those dreaded moments of speech writing.  


First, never think that  your first  draft will be anything  but  silly. Don’t be discouraged, the draft  is  just a way of getting you to write the things you want to say.  


Second, reject the notion that honesty and candour demand that you "let it all hang out." That’s not honesty, that’s intellectual laziness. Tuck some of your words  in and edit some of them out. Remember composition is a discipline that forces you to think, put your thoughts in order and  give them a purpose. 


Remember too that your audience will expect  you to give them some thing to think about. A speech demands some sense of occasion,  you may want to use your ten minutes to uplift, inform and even inspire. Business leaders should use words full of meaning, that bind thoughts together with purpose, that holds a  promise of understandable progress. Avoid empty word and false promises.  


Like my friend Indra, I believe the written word needs a renaissance of clarity.


3 thoughts on “The revival of the written word

  1. Big thumbs up for this article Judette. I have been hearing a lot of speakers deliever speeches where they have put aside what they wrote and opted to speak ‘from their head’ so to speak and whilst some of them have been successful at it, others just made a mess of things, using bad English, poor pronunciation and bad jokes. I have also noticed that many young adults are getting so accustommed to using shortened versions of words that they do not even recognise when they are using them when they ought not to eg. in simple online job applications. I once came across a young lady applying for a postion at a firm where she used very informal words in her application and the manager was not pleased at all.

  2. I too have seen a lot of young University students sending in requests via emails to my boss for jobs/positions and doing so as if they are chatting with their friends on MSN messenger. It is a disturbing trend I think

  3. Judette all you statements are on point as always and i must admit that I have
    been guilty of "internet writing" when it is not required. I remembered last semester
    my class had an inpromtu test which required us to write two essays and speed
    was required. My goodness, all i have to say is thank God for correction fluid
    and my speed reading abilities. You = u, Where = whey, Because = bec etc, it
    was horrible.

    Judette, your friend is not overbearing at all, she has a legitimate argument and
    considering my mishaps while writing along with the amount of time i spend on the
    internet chatting, if i am not conscious I will make the same mistakes all the time. .

    The instances where top executives perform poorly while executing speeches
    is a huge NO NO. Is there not someone to proof read their presentations? It is understandable that not every person may posess the ability to write perfectly but there is always someone who can help ease the frustration and eliminate the embarassment.

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